by Dominic Rolfe
What does the word hospitality mean to you and how has it changed since you started?
Hospitality is about maintaining standards and providing a place where customers enjoy themselves surrounded by pleasant experiences – food, wine and service, atmosphere, the whole experience.
Hospitality is always evolving and that keeps it interesting. Keeping up the pace, keeping up to date with what’s going on demands a lot of people in the industry. But so does maintaining standards. You might have bistro French cuisine that has pretty much stayed the same for decades but it takes a lot of effort to keep the standard of that food at a high level.
Did you have a mentor?
Not really. I started cooking in the dark ages in Australia, when nothing had changed in a long time. It’s hard to explain now but back then there was little focus on produce and everyone was cooking the same menu items. Then, at the end of my apprenticeship, the nouvelle cuisine era arrived, ushering in a whole new world of cuisine which has remained exciting ever since. This movement also allowed other cuisines like Italian and Asian to bloom.
In the early days, I worked with a few good chefs that drilled into you that you needed to work fast, you needed to work hard and you had to absorb all the basics of cooking. But once you’d done that, for that new era you had to be searching out new ideas yourself.
There was a sort of good side to not having a mentor. No-one told you how to make all the basics such as puff pastry. While it takes much longer to learn by yourself, once you learn from scratch, it’s in there forever.
What was the goal when you opened and is it different now?
When I started out, I had no real idea. But I did know that I wanted to have a restaurant one day and express what I liked to cook and what was up to date, not just another plate of Oysters Kilpatrick. It was a lot easier back then to start out without making a huge capital investment like today. It was exciting, all-consuming and draining at the same time.
Do you have a piece of advice for current chefs starting out? Did you have a piece of advice that you’ve carried through?
I probably should have looked more at the business. Because you’re a chef, you’re focussing on the food and restaurant rather than the business. And in the end, it all comes down to business. Today, what I’d say to young chefs and restaurateurs starting out is “Remember, at the end of the day, it’s a business.”
It’s also really important that you have a work/life balance. The hospitality industry has long, anti-social hours and if you enjoy that aspect of it, that’s fine. But it does get draining so people need to find a life balance. Don’t overdo it because people get consumed by it. People think it’s a badge of honour to say you’ve worked 80 or 90 hours a week but you have to have a life as well. It’s important for the whole industry because you don’t want a lot of good people burning out and leaving the industry.